PORT LAVACA – John Amador remembers his mother every year the same way – with an angel.

Close to 100 families gathered to honored their loved ones who died of violent crimes during the 17 annual Tree of Angels on Thursday at the Bauer Community Center in Port Lavaca. This year, 221 victims of violent crimes were honored, said event founder Mary Sue Woods.

Amador, 30, of Port Lavaca, has attended the annual ceremony since 2003 when he was 13 years old. His mother, Georgina Villegas, was murdered in Port Lavaca during a domestic violence incident involving her boyfriend at the time.

His mother died March 2003 and his grandmother brought him to Tree of Angels to help him grieve during the holiday season, Amador said.

“At first, it was really hard,” Amador said. “I didn’t like coming.”

Now, he shares the event with his wife, stepchildren and his 1-month-old daughter, Jorgina Amador, named after his mother.

“This shows them what I went through,” he said.

Amador said the event has become a time he sets aside to remember his mother. It’s turned into a tradition of sorts, he said.

For the past 16 years, he and his family go out to dinner after the event, and they share stories of his late-mother.

This year, he placed a red bell angel on the tree among the hundreds of others to honor his mother.

“When a bell rings, an angel gets its wings,” he explained.

Among those grieving, Crossroads law enforcement agencies stood beside them.

Calhoun County Sheriff Bobby Vickery said Port Lavaca was among 43 other communities celebrating the Tree of Angels event. The event originated in 1991 in Austin, and Port Lavaca started the tradition in 2002. Gov. Greg Abbott proclaimed Dec. 2-8 as Tree of Angels week.

“Know that we stand shoulder to shoulder with you,” Vickery said.

He said the event was bittersweet because of the circumstances, but he hopes the event helps heal those who attend.

“We stand beside you and forever behind you,” he said to the families.

Woods said the event started as a way to bring families together going through similar tragedies. She said it is important for the children in these instances to know there are people beside them enduring the same thing.

The commonality keeps everyone bound together, and it’s one of the reasons many continue to attend like Amador.

“There’s a lot of people here tonight who were here at the first one,” Woods said.

Amador isn’t alone during the Tree of Angels event. He was surrounded by adults and children who have endured similar hardships.

He continues to attend the event to show kids like him that the pain and grief passes and success is possible, he said.

“It’s a good thing,” he said. “This is bringing everyone together who have something in common.”

Samantha Douty is the education reporter at the Victoria Advocate. She grew up in Corpus Christi and graduated from UT-Arlington with a bachelor's in journalism.

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